May 22, 2023

Decoding The Future: The Evolution Of Intelligent Interfaces

A futuristic smart city during the day, with skyscrapers, greenery, and a large rectangle pool of water reflecting the buildings and the sky
kobewan x Midjourney 2023

In the tech world, there's always a 'next big thing' on the horizon. Right now, that horizon is dominated by conversations about artificial intelligence, mainly ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Generative AI tools like Midjourney and Dall-E 2. Some professions are embracing Generative AI, while others are fearing it.

Included in that conversation is a lot of talk about chatbots. But chatbots are not the future, they are our present. In many ways, chat interfaces are the foundation of more conversational and natural interactions with systems and computers, but really they are the start of something much bigger.

We’ve been anticipating this future for a while, but it hasn’t really been possible until the last couple of years when the right ingredients and technology have converged. It’s an exciting time.

Ubiquitous Computing and Intelligent Interfaces

What happens when we move beyond our screens and unleash computing power, the internet, and AI into the real world? It starts to get interesting. Welcome to the age of ubiquitous computing — the future of intelligent systems.

Ubiquitous computing, also known as pervasive computing or ambient intelligence, is a concept first proposed by Mark Weiser, Chief Technologist at Xerox PARC, in the late 1980s. Weiser later wrote a paper on the topic in 1991 titled "The computer for the 21st century". The idea behind ubiquitous computing was to create an environment where computers were embedded seamlessly into the physical world and where human-computer interaction was natural and effortless. Where we forget about the underlying technology. Weiser envisioned a world where computing would be "invisible," and users would be surrounded by an "information fabric" that would provide them with relevant information and services.

Ubiquitous computing has been somewhat realized in the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of interconnected devices and sensors embedded in everyday objects, from smart homes to self-driving cars. But, the original vision of ubiquitous computing as a truly seamless and integrated experience has yet to be fully realized.

Then there are intelligent Interfaces, representing a paradigm shift in human-computer interaction. Unlike traditional GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) that require users to learn the system's language, intelligent interfaces aim to make the system understand the user's language. Instead of humans adapting to the system, the system adapts to them. Intelligent interfaces leverage human instincts and behaviors to create a more intuitive experience. These systems integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and can leverage everything from touch interfaces, voice recognition systems, and gesture-based controls to brain-computer interfaces — they’re multi-modal.

These intelligent systems can make our interactions with technology more intuitive, natural, and efficient. Think Siri, but on steroids. So as we stand on the brink of a new era in human-computer interaction, it's worth exploring how these interfaces have evolved, where they're headed, and how they will revolutionize how we interact with devices and the world around us.

“The future is already here — it's just not evenly distributed.” 
— William Gibson

Current State

The journey has been gradual, with momentum building in the last five years. It started with command-line interfaces, moved to graphical user interfaces, and then to touch interfaces with the advent of smartphones and tablets.

A spectrum that illustrates the evolution from interfaces that are built around computers to interfaces built around humans, from punchcards, keyboards, and mice to touch, voice, gesture, and gaze.
Slide from my Leading Innovation presentation, 2019

Today, we're already seeing the beginnings of intelligent interfaces. Technology is getting smarter, from Alexa managing our smart homes to AI algorithms recommending our next Netflix binge. They're in our phones, our cars, even our refrigerators. And they're changing the way we interact with technology. We’re now using much more natural and multimodal interaction in everyday objects. We're seeing the rise of voice interfaces like Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, gesture-based controls in gaming systems like the Nintendo Switch, and even early versions of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) from companies like Neuralink.

As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to using biometrics, like facial recognition and fingerprints, to authenticate and unlock our devices. Even BMW is starting to use gestural interaction and gaze for hands-free interaction in their cars. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) interfaces are becoming more popular, providing immersive experiences that blend the virtual and real worlds. This is seen in devices like the Meta Quest and Microsoft HoloLens.

Interaction patterns of the future.

The chat interfaces we’re seeing today with ChatGPT and others are setting the foundation for multimodal systems of the future. The back-and-forth interaction volley will lay the groundwork for how systems interact with us, anticipating our needs, confirming our requests, and acting on our behalf.

We’ve seen glimpses of ubiquitous computing and intelligent interfaces in TV shows and movies, but it’s always seemed to be further into the distance. However, we’re now on the cusp of an explosion of product innovation that advances in AI, computing, and hardware will finally enable. It’s exciting that what used to be science fiction and innovation concepts are now becoming reality. Movies and TV shows have played a large part in inspiring us to push further.

Minority Report (2002)

One of the most famous examples is the user interface in Minority Report. The movie has been highly influential in shaping public perceptions of interfaces and has inspired real-world applications of gesture-based interfaces and other emerging technologies. Most remember the gestural interface used by Tom Cruise’s character, what’s not widely known is the computer system used in the movie. John Underkoffler of Oblong Industries created the g-speak Spatial Operating Environment, which uses natural gestures — no keyboard, mouse, or command line. Underkoffler also worked on the gestural holographic interfaces in Iron Man (2006).

Her (2013)

The gesture-based interfaces in Minority Report and Iron Man gave us a glimpse of what's possible, while the voice interface in the movie Her showed us a future where our devices understand us on a deeply personal level. Her explores the idea of natural UI, the potential for human-like interactions with digital assistants, and the potential implications of a future where technology becomes more integrated into our personal lives.

Maeve’s “Attribute Matrix”, Westworld

Another great example is Westworld, which explores the concept of ephemeral interfaces and artificial intelligence, where android hosts adapt and respond to the guests' actions and preferences in real-time, creating a highly personalized and immersive experience in a technologically advanced amusement park. It gets even more interesting when the androids return to the “real world.”

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 offers a glimpse into a future where projection mapping and augmented reality create immersive and dynamic environments. In the movie, projection mapping creates large-scale holographic displays that interact with the physical environment, creating an immersive and surreal atmosphere.

Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S. AI assistant and the virtual assistant FRIDAY in Captain America: Civil War are great examples of natural UI. These interfaces demonstrate the potential for natural language processing and machine learning to create sophisticated and responsive digital assistants to help us navigate our increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Intelligent Interfaces promise to make our interactions with technology more natural and effortless. By leveraging our behaviors and instincts, they can also reduce the learning curve associated with new technologies, making them more accessible to a broader range of users.

Emerging technology shaping the future

The interface of the future is not chat — it’s multimodal and ubiquitous.

The future is not pages and pages of UI flows or detecting whether you’re on desktop or mobile. Our future interfaces will be intelligent, contextual, and ephemeral. Just enough interface compiled in real-time, based on context and relevance.

UI that appears when it’s needed and hidden when it’s not.

The ability to interact by voice, touch, or typing, easily switching modalities based on what’s natural for the user. Where interfaces are fluid, and sound and haptics enhance calm, ambient interactions. A proactive concierge that provides what’s needed based on understanding who you are and gets better the more you interact with it.

Systems that adapt to humans instead of the other way around.

Imran Chaudhri, Co-Founder, Chairman, and President of Humane at TED 2023

Some companies are already working towards this vision of the future. At this year’s TED Conference, Humane’s Imran Chaudhri provided a preview of their unreleased tech, a system where AI, computer vision, and projection come together to create an assistant that’s with you throughout your day without using a phone — where the device disappears. Early views of this type of system are reminiscent of Pranav Mistry’s 2009 SixSense demo at TEDIndia of a wearable gestural interface, his MIT Media Lab thesis project. Pattie Maes, who runs the Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces research group, created a huge buzz at the TED main stage that year, introducing the project.

Mercury OS

Another team pushing the boundaries, former Apple designer and founder Jason Yuan and Sam Whitmore, have just received funding for, whose mission is to “create a future where computers intuitively adapt to humans, forging relationships as essential as the tools we use today.” Jason Yuan’s name may be familiar for creating Mercury OS, a minimal, fluid reimagining of the traditional operating system focused on the user’s intention instead of apps and folders.

Refik Anadol, Machine Memoirs

And some of the most experimental art may push the boundaries and help shape how we interact with future systems. Refik Anadol uses projection mapping and machine learning to create immersive AI data sculptures and interactive art installations. Anadol's work blurs the line between the physical and digital worlds, creating beautiful and thought-provoking environments.

Advancements in AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and human-computer interaction will likely drive the evolution of intelligent interfaces over the next decade. As we think about the types of new interactions and experiences that will evolve, here are some of the trends and developments that will influence that future:

  1. Multimodal Interfaces: Future interfaces will likely combine text, voice, visual, and even tactile inputs and outputs. This will allow users to interact with AI in whatever way is convenient or intuitive for them at any given moment. For example, you might speak a command to your AI assistant, then receive a visual response on your smart glasses.
  2. Context-Aware Interfaces: AI will become better at understanding the context of user interactions. This means that the AI will understand what you're saying, where you are, what you're doing, and what you might need in that specific situation. This could involve integrating data from various sensors and sources to provide more relevant and personalized responses.
  3. Emotionally Intelligent Interfaces: AI will become more adept at recognizing and responding to human emotions. This could involve analyzing voice tones, facial expressions, or even physiological signals to understand the user's emotional state and adjust its responses accordingly.
  4. Proactive Interfaces: Instead of waiting for commands, AI interfaces will become more proactive, anticipating user needs based on patterns, habits, and preferences. For example, your AI assistant might suggest leaving early for a meeting if it knows there's heavy traffic on your usual route.
  5. Immersive Interfaces: With advancements in AR, VR, and projection mapping technologies like those demonstrated by Humane, we can expect more immersive AI interfaces. These technologies could allow for more natural and intuitive interactions with digital content.
  6. Collaborative Interfaces: AI will become more capable of collaborative problem-solving, working alongside humans to tackle complex tasks. This will involve understanding and contributing to human-like conversations, including recognizing when to take initiative and when to ask for clarification.

In the future, we can expect more personalized and immersive interfaces. AI and machine learning will continue to make interfaces smarter and more adaptive. They'll learn from our habits and preferences, making our interactions with technology more efficient and enjoyable. AR and VR will continue to evolve, creating more immersive and interactive experiences, blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds, and creating new possibilities for interaction. Though still in their infancy, Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) hold the promise of a future where we can interact with technology using our thoughts alone.

We'll see a move towards more continuous, personalized, ambient interfaces. These interfaces will be seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, allowing us to interact with AI in a more natural and intuitive way, similar to how we interact with other humans. Consider a combination of voice, gesture, gaze, and even thought-based interfaces in the future enabled by technological advancements like BCIs.

The latest research in the field is fascinating. Scientists are exploring everything from AI algorithms to brain-computer interfaces, and their findings could revolutionize how we interact with technology. Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are developing systems that can understand and respond to human emotions, potentially making our interactions with technology more empathetic and engaging. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are making strides in BCI technology, recently developing a system that can translate brain signals into complete sentences.

Intelligent Interfaces represent the next frontier in human-computer interaction. They hold the promise of making our interactions with technology more natural, intuitive, and engaging. While significant challenges and ethical considerationsexist, the potential benefits are immense. One thing is clear — how we interact with technology is about to change significantly.

This is a more dense approach than my usual posts. As always, send me your feedback. If the community is very interested in this topic, I’ll write part two, where I’ll dive into intelligent interfaces' challenges, ethical considerations, and how the role of designers will evolve. I’ve been trying out ChatGPT as my research assistant, how did it do?

February 5, 2023

The Path Forward: 3 Ways for Leaders to Shape Design’s Future In Business

Photo: Carrie Johnson

What got you here won’t get you there.

Standing on the precipice of a new future and looking toward the horizon, it’s clear the landscape has shifted. And will continue to evolve. Design leadership is change management — and it’s time to transform ourselves.

Design leaders in this new future can no longer focus on the desirability circle of the HCD Venn diagram and expect other disciplines to handle viability and feasibility completely. Our leaders and teams need to be multi-lingual — it’s time to lean in.

Companies need and want catalyst leadership, but there’s an apparent mismatch in expectations.

Here are three ways to shape design’s future in business and thrive as a leader:

1: Develop an integrated skillset and leverage technology.

Bring together new domain knowledge and emerging technology to become a powerhouse.

T-shaped leaders move beyond design disciplines in this environment. Business and technical acumen are required. Emerging technology is embraced and leveraged.

Designers need to understand the human insight and business aspects of the work, including leveraging data that drives business, data science, and AI/ML. Forward-leaning designers must learn to use AI-assisted tools to increase space for more strategic work.

Fuse the strategic design and business strategy toolkit. Envision experiences through service blueprints, develop approaches through future casting and opportunity framing, and map directly to ROI.

Make the future tangible through visualization, mapping, and prototyping.

2: Demonstrate business fluency and impact.

Show up as a business operator that’s driving sustainable growth.

Gain a deeper understanding of how the business works and how it makes money. Discover how value is created and what’s essential to the company. What are the most significant external and internal threats? What is the business strategy, and are you more focused on exploitation vs. exploration?

Focus on the metrics that move the business.

Don’t waste time developing a new set of metrics outside the business’s goal. Align on shared outcomes. Develop a shared vocabulary that grounds discussions in reality vs. theory.

Design leaders require business fluency and the ability to directly connect the work to the impact it’s creating for the business. Otherwise, they end up focusing most of their time down instead of across and up, lacking comfort in business conversations and accountability to metrics that move the needle.

Directly connect the work to the impact and ROI.

3: Architect a culture of system thinking, experimentation, and collaboration.

Become the orchestrator and organizational designer.

World-class organizations will move beyond the basics. Develop embedded capabilities and practices like service design, experience strategy, design technology, and experience architecture. This also requires hybrid leadership.

Define, hire, and develop talent along a spectrum from craft to strategy.

There’s a skillset distinction between shipping products, building platforms, and defining and mapping business systems and opportunities. The right talent and alignment are needed for strategic design, with accountability to deliver outcomes. Create integrated processes, mechanisms, and operating models leveraging cross-functional teams.

Strategy and organizational operating systems are connected.

Develop strong advanced product teams with portfolios aligned to the company’s strategic intent and clear accountability to budget and outcomes. Adapt your organization to what the company needs now while building the capability to create value for the future in adjacent markets.

Build a culture of hands-on experimentation through prototyping, modeling, testing, and iterating.

This is an exciting time where design leaders can shape the future of business if they are ready for it. It requires an integrated skillset, business fluency, and a culture of experimentation. The time is now.

August 20, 2022

The People Who Have Influenced My Design Practice and Leadership 

Throughout my career, I’ve been influenced and inspired by many people, books, and experiences that have shaped my approach to the work. But there are a few who’s philosophy and perspectives have become part of my designer DNA and ethos.

By internalizing their teachings and perspective and evolving from them, I can attribute the foundation of my design practice and leadership to these influential people, who continue to inspire me and constantly renew my passion for design:

Charles and Ray Eames

“The details are not the details. They make the product.”

Not only were Ray and Charles an amazing couple well known for their modern furniture design, they pioneered work in film, environments, textiles, and architecture, and pushed the boundaries of what design means and could be. Their bar for quality and attention to detail are why I exude the mantra that the details are what separates good from great.

When asked by Madame L’Amic, curator of the exhibition “Qu’est ce que le design? (What is Design?)” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Louvre in 1972, Charles Eames responds:

Q: “What are the boundaries of Design?”
A: “What are the boundaries of problems?”

Bruce Mau

“Design is the ability to imagine a future and systematically execute that vision. So if you think about what all designers do, they’re all futurists. They’re all thinking about what’s going to happen. They’re going to make something new happen in the world. They’re all trying to make the world a better place. I’ve yet to meet a designer who wakes up in the morning thinking, “I think we could do something worse.” That’s not our mandate. That ability to create a vision is one of the most powerful tools that a designer has. We don’t really understand how powerful it is — it’s an incredible power to create the future by showing somebody what it looks like.”

If you haven’t read Massive Change and MA24 — do it.

Dieter Rams

Dieter is a goldmine of quotes and inspiration, especially his ten principles for good design. Modern, minimal, and timeless, his “as little design as possible” philosophy always has me pushing teams to find the elegance in a solution, paring it back to its essence. Distill complexity, expose simplicity. But I find his approach to life and expectations for designers even more intriguing.

“Good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should — and must — question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits.They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”

Brigitte Borja de Mozota

“Design is a management tool that creates differentiation in the internal capabilities of the company. Design is no longer seen as the output of design-form, but as a creative and management process that can be integrated into other organization processes, such as idea management, innovation management, and research and development management, and that modifies the traditional structure of process management in a company.”

Brigitte is a researcher in management science, and wrote one of the first books I read on Design Management, which became my handbook. Her work on The Four Powers of Design clearly outlines a balanced scorecard approach to measuring and communicating Design’s impact.

These leaders have shaped my design leadership approach, my practice, and inspired me to shape the world around me. I hope by sharing this it will move others to learn more about them and become inspired themselves.

August 14, 2020

Embracing Change

Sharing this quote from Bruce Mau, co-founder of The Massive Change Network. When you're leading transformation, it's all too easy to not acknowledge what is already working.

How do you help people embrace change?

Here’s a good rule of thumb: for every one change initiative, create two celebrations of what’s already working. Emphasis on what’s working may seem redundant, but it often reflects a neglected reality — and the effect is to create a “field of safety” that makes change easier to accept.

Before people can embrace innovation, they need to feel safe. Therefore, the best way to foster change is to reinforce stability. In our rush to initiate change, we often ignore what’s already working. We take it for granted. If you want to fix what’s wrong, first celebrate what’s right and expand it where you can. Before building new structures, recognize the ones that are fine as they are. Applaud success and accomplishments. And make this celebration visible: be sure that people see it.”

— from Mau: MC24

June 25, 2020

The Business Impact of Design

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for Forrester's report The Business Impact of Design, which was published in June and recently promoted by InVision.

Envisioning and designing great experiences is only one lens of design leadership — you have to be able to demonstrate the business impact your work is having. Without that, it's just a shiny object.

February 28, 2020

Design is a Business Tool

As we evolve to an environment where design is a verb, organizations move into a level of maturity that peels away from Design is form-giving and a service, to Design is strategy. It’s no longer simply designing the app or the website, making the thing — it’s crafting the end-to-end customer journey and experience.

To our clients, all of our touchpoints are one experience — one brand.

This is an important POV to remember as we partner across the enterprise to raise the bar, focusing on experiences that truly resonate with our clients, and foster a customer-centric culture at its core.

Design is a business tool that makes strategy visible.

December 6, 2019

Anticipatory Design

Anticipatory design is all about creating delightful experiences by understanding user needs and reducing decision fatigue. Design that’s one step ahead of you, leveraging past choices to predict future decisions. But how much should the system lean in — how do you ensure it feels smart instead of creepy? How do you balance autonomy and clarity? What is the cost of being wrong?

The Next Big Thing In Design? Less Choice
Crafting Smarter Interfaces with Anticipatory Design
Anticipatory Design: How to Create Magical User Experiences
The Psychology of Anticipatory Design
Anticipatory Design: The Future of UX Design
UX Patterns of the Future: Anticipatory Design
How to Get Anticipatory Design Right
Anticipatory design — Create smart, delightful user experiences (video)
Anticipatory design in financial services

October 11, 2019

Human-Centered Design Drives Transformation

Human-centered design and innovation drives transformation. It’s based on the observation that the usefulness and desirability of a product or service isn’t determined by its technological sophistication, but whether people experience it as a valuable addition to their lives. It doesn’t just embrace customer-centricity, but puts designing for people at the heart of the entire process. It goes beyond designing for form and function, and extends the potential by designing for experience (e.g. meaning). Design becomes a key competitive advantage.

One of the challenging aspects of becoming design-driven is that it requires seamlessly streamlining people, processes, technology, and funding. It requires fundamentally transforming the way an organization is structured and how it works, but also demands a cultural mindset shift. A transformation that yields measurable positive impact to both customers and the business.

Competing on customer experience: How the value proposition of design is changing
The forgotten step in leading large-scale change
The Digital Transformation is a Design Transformation
Building a design-driven culture
6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture
The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking
5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Design Team

September 27, 2019

Behavioral Science in Experience Design

Changing behavior doesn’t happen overnight. Behavioral science is having a popularity surge as more realize its importance in designing experiences. As part of that trend, behavioral economics is gaining headlines highlighting that human decisions are not always rational — especially when dealing with money. How can we create experiences that will encourage people to make better financial decisions? What role do we [or should we] play in that aspect of people’s lives?

Coming soon: Netflix-style nudges that reward retail bank customers
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
Designing for Behavior Change: Applying Psychology and Behavioral Economics
Leveraging The Power of Behavioral Science in Banking
Why Behavior Change Is the Key to True Financial Wellness
With Timeful Acquisition, Google Aims To Supercharge Its Apps’ Time-Management Smarts
Two Years Later, Walmart’s Prize Savings Helps Customers Save $2 Billion
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Dan Ariely Ted Talks

August 30, 2019

Explicit Value Exchange Creates the Flywheel

When customers understand a clear value exchange, they are willing to pay for it. Amazon Prime started with 2-day free shipping that has evolved into something so much more. It’s really about changing customer behavior through reduced friction, in turn making Amazon the default choice. How can banks create their version of Amazon Prime that can deliver distinct value to customers while remaining simple? And how does that enable them to win the emerging battle to be the default?

Disruptive Interfaces & The Emerging Battle To Be The Default
Digital Banking Creates ‘Amazon Prime’ Opportunity
Banking Needs An ‘Amazon Prime’ Marketing Strategy
Amazon Virtuous Cycle
The making of Amazon Prime, the internet’s most successful and devastating membership program


Design leadership and operations, building world-class organizations that integrate human-centered design to drive product innovation and customer-centric culture.

© 2023 kobewan

The present is a beta of a better future.